In the U.S. and globally, the in-person events industry was undoubtedly one of the most immediately affected during the coronavirus pandemic, and most of those events have yet to return. Although some conferences, trade shows, education sessions and company-wide celebrations were able to move to a virtual format to keep operations and programs going—and with many companies entirely reinventing their wheelhouse to do so—it was certainly a far different feel (and challenge) both for attendees and businesses alike, and it required a willingness to transition on all fronts. 

Rama Beerfas, MAS, CTSM, owner, founder and chief solutions specialist of San Diego, California, distributor Lev Promotions, operates a client base that’s largely within the trade show and event space and, during a June interview, she offered a glimpse into how this industry is moving forward today as many companies return to in-person shows.

PPB How did your clients fare in relation to in-person shows and events this past year?

Beerfas  Where there have been some live trade shows this year, I haven’t had a single client participate in one yet. The earliest show any of my clients is participating in so far is in September. At the same time, none of them really have any virtual shows on the books before then. But they are starting to get out to do in-person meetings with clients and prospects, along with Zoom meetings and webinars. As far as the trade-show industry goes, the first really large trade show that was live and kind of a test was the World of Concrete 2021 show in Las Vegas [which caters to the commercial concrete and masonry industries, and was held June 7-10]. A lot of the trade-show folks were kind of holding their breath waiting to see how that one would go.

PPB Is there a “new norm” for trade shows?

Beerfas  There is no way to define what the new “norm” is for trade shows because it varies wildly depending on the country and, in the U.S., among states and even counties and cities. What is totally okay in Florida wouldn’t necessarily be acceptable in California at this point. It's also ever-changing based on how and when restrictions are loosened in each area. I expect California will start to look a lot more like Florida after June 15.

PPB Are there any areas that your clients are focused on right now?

Beerfas  I can tell you that my clients are focused right now on the live aspect of the trade shows they’ll be exhibiting at in the third and fourth quarters of the year. Not one seems to have a genuine interest in the virtual aspect of any hybrid shows—their experiences in virtual shows in 2020 were not positive, between variations in the virtual show platforms, the lack of ability to engage meaningfully and the ridiculous delays in getting booth visitor contact information and statistics. Also, many of them, especially small companies with limited staff and budgets, have no clue how they can adequately staff the virtual side and give their full attention to those who are live in front of them. The two trade-show consultants that I work most closely with are just now starting to see some inquiries about upcoming shows for the third and fourth quarters. Nothing really major yet at this point before September.

PPB What are some precautionary steps in live events that, as a result of the pandemic, you believe are here to stay?

Beerfas  The most likely ones, in my opinion, are liability waivers that are more upfront and less small-print, uncarpeted aisle-ways on trade-show floors, more hand-sanitizing stations and less handshaking/hugging. Other than that, I'm already seeing a relaxation of some cleaning regimens in public places when I'm out and about, so I imagine that will spill over into shows and events. We tend to be reactionary and like things the way we're used to them, so getting back to "normal" is important to us.  


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.